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Cliff Harris Talks To The Pirates

The music industry was destroyed by piracy in 1999, of course. How we all miss it.

If there’s one name that’s come up each time in RPS’s perennial piracy comment threads, it’s Positech‘s Cliffski. The moniker of PC developer, Cliff Harris, he’s ruffled feathers with, surprisingly, the anti-piracy position. As Kieron mentioned on Sunday, Cliff decided to run a survey via his blog, and then via every other website on the internet, asking people to tell him why they pirate his games. It’s a remarkably modest and reasonable question to ask, and now he’s back with an anecdotal presentation of the results.

Cliff Harris deserves applause for taking this approach. But he deserves carrying aloft the shoulders of those who have loudly disagreed with him in the comments (me included) for his response to his broad survey. He’s changing how he develops games as a consequence.

This graph should frighten off all but the hardiest of pirates.

First of all, he’s ditching DRM. (And the crowds cheered). None for Kudos 2, and he’s removed it from Democracy 2. He’s changing his demos, so they’re “much better, and longer, and will retrospectively change this when I get around to it for some of my older games.” He’s lowering prices, and has lowered the price of Kudos to $10 (a smart promotional move for the forthcoming Kudos 2, of course), and is thinking about lowering future prices. He’s attempting to make it more convenient to buy his games. And most interestingly, he’s found fresh enthusiasm to invest himself into making better games, ignoring the previous demoralising doom of knowing people would pirate his previous hard work.

“I get the impression that if I make Kudos 2 not just lots better than the original, but hugely, overwhelmingly, massively better, well polished, designed and balanced, that a lot of would-be pirates will actually buy it.”

Each of these points could sustain extensive dissection, and inevitably the cursed P-word will ensure that happens below, but I’d like to make a couple of comments. Firstly, I hope that Cliff’s getting rid of DRM might cause ripples. I hope developers notice this, give it some thought. It’s a significant demonstration of respecting people’s rights.

I swear I recognise this artwork froms somewhere...

But I wonder if the decision over lowering prices is correct. Well, that’s not quite right. I think going under the $19.99 will cause his game to stand out. But it doesn’t address the larger issue of that ridiculous price having taken root as the apparent default no matter what shovelware shit is being churned out. This price point has woefully blurred the market, devaluing any sense of what we might be getting for our money. Cliff’s games have tended to score marks in the 70s, sometimes low 80s – a quality where twenty bucks seems very fair. But when every quarter-arsed match-3 or Diner Dash clone gets slapped with the same price, it just seems demeaning that distinct, original gaming needs to undercut it to get bought. Part of me wonders if the solution is to price over those games – indicate that you’re quality, and not a bloody overgrown mini-game – but then maybe that part of me is mad. Clearly the results Cliff received suggested that a huge proportion of those pirating did so because the games were already too expensive for them.

I’d be fascinated to see someone emulate the model a few musicians have tried, letting people name their price (Girl Talk, and the rather weak Radiohead attempt, that they’ve now canned), with advantages for those choosing to pay over a certain amount. I’m not certain Cliffski is in a position to try this, but surely one of the less pisspoor match-3-alikes could give it a go.

Er, I rambled. Go visit Cliff Harris’ results to see his thoughts. And hopefully he’ll soon be putting up some raw data for others to study.

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John Walker


One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I tried to leave, but they won't let me. If anyone reads this, please send help.

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